By NEIL RIDDELL
LAST minute negotiations are to take place to bring the cost of the new Mid Yell Junior High School back under budget after the preferred bidder’s tender to design and build the school came in substantially over the £8.5m allocated to the project.
The project team will spend the remainder of the winter in discussions with the company, the council’s education department and the Yell community to try to identify over £1m in savings from the existing design.
Around £1.5m has been spent to date on getting the site prepared and covering the cost of architects’ fees and planning applications, but the project team has been told that they have to build the school within their fixed budget.
It means the local authority only has around £7m to actually build the school, with work due to start in March or April to take advantage of the summer weather, but council sources suggested that the tender had come in up to 25 per cent over the allocated budget.
The SIC is hoping to announce the award of the contract early next week, with a large Scandinavian firm understood to be the preferred choice.
The preparatory work, including levelling the site, was offered as a separate contract and has largely been carried out by the council’s roads department and local civil engineering firm MK Leslie. Project manager Andrew Lyall said that stage of the work was on schedule to be completed before Christmas or shortly after.
The project team has opted for an ECI (early contractor involvement) contract and will now ask the chosen contractor to give suggestions on where money can be saved without having a detrimental impact on the standard of education provided to North Isles children.
Mr Lyall said: “We’re going to sit down and do the costs – there isn’t a total cost on the table as such, there’s still quite a bit of work to be done with the contractor. I’m fairly confident that we can work together with education, the contractor and we think we can deliver a school for the budget that we have.”
SIC head of schools Helen Budge said there were “many different aspects” within the price which could be looked at without diminishing the quality of education. She said: “I have every confidence that we will be able to do so, without any effect on the educational provision. We will ensure that we still provide a good quality building for the children of Yell.
“The types of areas we are looking at [include] the materials that the building would be built with, and we’re looking at the area [where it will be built] as well. This is to be looked at very much with the school staff and the pupils and we’re certainly going to speak to the community of Yell as well.”
It is still hoped that the new school will be completed and ready to open in time for the start of the 2010-11 term in 20 months’ time.
Mr Lyall said the intention was to have the building wind and watertight by next winter, with the bulk of the work completed in order that a switchover from old to new can take place during the six week holiday break in the summer of 2010.
The budget for the school was initially set at £9.8m before head of the council’s capital programme service Chris Medley told councillors last year that the project costs were “out of control”. It was initially recommended that the budget be slashed to around £7m but members opted to set a compromise cost of £8.5m.
Among possible ways of cutting costs are re-examining some of the more innovative features of the building, such as the grass roof and exterior larch cladding. Councillors have previously expressed concern at the additional cost of the grass roof, which is estimated to cost £100,000 more than an ordinary one.
North Isles councillor Robert Henderson said a meeting with the project team was scheduled for 15th December and, though he was concerned about the prospect of any corners having to be cut, he did not want to make any comment until he had spoken to the team in detail.
Fellow councillor for the area Laura Baisley said she was “optimistic” all the interested parties could get around the table and find a solution.
She said: “I know this was done before with the project, so I hope it won’t lead to too many cuts. The longer-serving teachers have been looking forward to working in better conditions and any setback would be demoralising to say the least but they’re a pretty steadfast lot. We have to be optimistic that they can sort it out.”
The need for a new school in Yell has been recognised for the best part of two decades, with around one fifth of the existing buildings consisting of temporary wooden huts.
Head teacher Mark Lawson was away on a course yesterday but a school spokeswoman said: “Mid Yell Junior High School will continue to work with all parties to ensure we have good provision in Yell.”